Finals in the Dome or semifinals in the Dome?

By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC

When it comes to the location for playing in the Georgia high school football finals, Carrollton head coach Rayvan Teague captures the thoughts of just about every other coach in the state.

“I don’t care if you’re playing in a cow pasture,” said Teague, who won a Class AAA state championship in 2000 as the head coach at Swainsboro. “It’s a real accomplishment for your program just to get there.”

Back then, the semifinals were played in the Georgia Dome, with the championships played at the home field of one of the finalists, as long as their stadium was large enough. But due to the huge crowds clamoring to see the finals, the Georgia High School Association’s executive committee voted five years ago to move the semifinals back to home stadiums and play the finals in the Georgia Dome.

“Everything I’ve heard has been positive for the most part,” GHSA executive director Ralph Swearngin said of the switch. “I think it has worked out for the best for a variety of reasons.

“Before, schools were pre-selling tickets knowing that there were going to be more people buying tickets than their stadiums could hold,” Swearngin said. “The reality of the situation is that the finals are what many people see as the crowning event in Georgia high school football, and that event should take place at a great venue.”

But a number of coaches, particularly those in smaller communities throughout the state, would like to see the semifinals return to the Dome and the finals return to community stadiums. The reasons are largely financial.

“It’s a tremendous economic benefit to small communities,” said Teague, who just completed his 11th season at Carrollton. “You’ve got anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 people, and pretty much all of them are going to eat near your stadium. Half of those people are from the other team and 30 or even maybe 50 percent of them are going to spend the night, which means they are going to eat more than once or twice and then gas up in your community, too.”

Dooly County head coach Jimmy Hughes, in his third year coaching the Bobcats, said playing the finals in the Dome makes for an extremely expensive outing for families, particularly those from south Georgia.

“It’s hard for a family of five to drive three or four hours up to Atlanta, and then have to spend $100 ($20 per ticket) to see the game,” said Hughes, who has Dooly County in the Class A (public) finals for the first time since 2002.

Still, Swearngin believes playing the finals in a centralized location like the Dome is what is best for the sport. Prior to 2008, Georgia was one of only four states that did not play its football finals at a neutral venue. One of the other states was California, which has sectional champions because the state is so large.

“I think it’s important to remember that these are the state championship games, and not games benefiting individual schools,” Swearngin said. “All of the schools should be able to share in the experience, and we have many people who don’t have a team in the finals but still like to come down and enjoy a whole day of championship football.”

Teague admits to seeing the logistical merits of playing the finals in the Dome as opposed to the semifinals, which, due to scheduling, could run the risk of conflicting with the SEC Championship. But he said playing the semi finals there gives even more high school players the opportunity to suit up and compete in the same venue as National Football League and big-time college football players.

Lamar County head coach Franklin Stephens agrees. As an assistant at Camden County and as head coach at Tucker from 2007 to 2011, Stephens has coached in semi finals and finals, at the Dome and in home stadiums. He prefers to play the semifinals in the Dome.

“You had five classifications, that’s 20 teams that got to experience playing in the Georgia Dome when the semifinals where there,” Stephens said. “It’s great to give that time of exposure to as many kids as you can.”

Stephens, who won state titles in 2008 and in 2011 in the Georgia Dome, said winning the finals in a community stadium makes for a much better post-game celebration, which he said was missed by Tucker fans.

“In the Dome, they have to stay on schedule with everything,” Stephens said. “Everything is rushed. You win the game. They give you the trophy. Take your picture and then it’s like, ‘OK, next.’

“Back in 2003, when I was at Camden and we won it Valdosta (21-7), that was a special moment,” Stephens said. “People stayed around and hugged and celebrated. It’s something people will never forget.”

It is that magical experience, Mt. Zion-Carroll head coach Ken Holloway said, that cannot be duplicated in the Dome. Holloway was on the staff at Bowden in 2001, when that team hosted the Class A final, a 35-13 loss to Buford.

“I’m a small town boy myself and there’s just nothing like that atmosphere,” Holloway said. “The whole town is excited. There’s really nothing like it.”

As for the players, Sandy Creek junior Khari Lain conveys their sentiments: Play the finals in the Dome.

“It’s just a great atmosphere,” said Lain, a two-year starter at linebacker for the Patriots who was a freshman with they won the AAA title in 2010. “You’re playing where the pros play. The field, all the fans. It’s just a great atmosphere.”

19 comments Add your comment


December 13th, 2012
3:27 pm

The argument that having the Finals in the Dome hurts local communities doesn’t hold water. There are 7 Final games this weekend in the Dome. That means that 7 local communities are out of that revenue. But last weekend there were 14 Semi-Final games where 14 local communities benefitted. Seems to me that 14 is lot more than 7.


December 13th, 2012
3:29 pm

Living less than 30 minutes from ATL I like having the finals in the dome. However, would it not make more sense to use a venue say in Macon or somewhere more in the middle of the state to make travel for all teams a little easier?


December 13th, 2012
4:49 pm

Ah Macon is not in the middle of the state…..


December 13th, 2012
5:02 pm

Swearngin believes playing the finals in a centralized location like the Dome , centralized for who?


December 13th, 2012
5:06 pm

Either have the finals at the dome or nothing at the dome and flip coins. Either way somebody is not going to like something.

Metro Fan

December 13th, 2012
5:32 pm

South Georgia won’t have to worry about that long drive anymore.. Metro Atlanta runs the state now and forever. The rubes no longer outcoach us, and they sure can’t out-athlete us. No matter how much money they raise, sooner or later they will have to accept that their inferiority on the gridiron has become every bit as clear-cut as on the hardcourt. One or two schools will likely come from communities over an hour away (as with Dooly and Ware this year; Savannah Christian and Colquitt last year), but expect the shifting balance of power observed these previous three seasons to continue. The Georgia Dome provides a very convenient location for the best in the state.


December 13th, 2012
5:54 pm

@Momamoon.. Are you drunk again? You’re always trying to tell people to read the post. It’s getting old correcting you all the time. Why not practice what you preach babe? Did I say Macon was the middle of the state? NO. I said “use a venue say in Macon OR somewhere more in the middle of the state”

Swamp Lizard

December 13th, 2012
6:07 pm

I’m all for the finals to be played at the Dome. That’s the “prize”. The State Championship game is the final game of the season … it should be played on the grandest stage. Being from deep South Georgia / North Florida, I understand the financial strains for some families to make the trip to Atlanta, but I also know “I” would put Christmas presents or other things on hold if my son was playing in the Dome.

BullDawg Rick

December 13th, 2012
6:51 pm

The teams & players enjoy playing at the Dome.. It’s like a home game for the Wolves of Buford.. :)


December 13th, 2012
8:54 pm

When I moved to Georgia I’d listen to kids on TV and newspaper interviews talking about “making it to the dome”. When I realized the semi-finals were played at the Ga Dome I scratched my head. Those kids goal was to make it to the semi-finals…made no sence. I understand the rural schools and communities wanting to capitalize on the revenue but…the FINALS should be at a neutral site and the Ga Dome is the perfect venue considering there is no location in middle Ga that is large enough.


December 13th, 2012
9:04 pm

@ Swamp Lizard: I agree that playing in the dome should be the pinnacle for a player, a team, a coach or a parent. I live in North Fla and I’m heading up in the am with my son and his best friend to catch the games. Fortunately for us our Gators are in the finals tomorrow night. It is a big deal to the teams in South Georgia to make it to the dome. Whether you’re class A or AAAAAA the community gets behind the teams and comes up with the extra support needed.


December 13th, 2012
9:27 pm

I am for semis or at least the finals in the Dome. The more money generated can go to pay better rate per mile for travel. Gainsville,Sandy Creek,Buford,Norcross, St Pius and others are not traveling that far so less of a share. Note that they probably do bring more folks because of the shorter distance. Players from teams beaten by finalists won’t drive a great distance to see the games but kids who were beaten by these metro teams during the season or in the playoffs do show up to watch in person.
I love the neutral site idea.
GHSA can tie in with a Hotel chain (not staying downtown but on N Druid hills or Lavista roads) who has rooms within 15 mins of the Dome for those that need to spend the night. Free advertising in programs or on GPTV. Heck the chain might even write some of it off as giving to a nonprofit.
Don’t kill the cash cow just milk it a little smarter !


December 13th, 2012
9:30 pm

GHSA Chick-fil-A high school finals from the dome… heck if they can take the Peach bowl let them have the finals.


December 13th, 2012
10:47 pm

This is the WORST 6A Final coverage possible! I guess Norcross must not be one of the DARLINGS of Gwinnett….. :-)


December 13th, 2012
11:57 pm

Camden, you took a wrong turn man, this is a blog about opinions on playing in the dome.


December 14th, 2012
12:43 am

I really like the semifinals being in the dome, purely as a fan, because I got to see 20 great teams in one location, as opposed to only being able to take in 2 games that weekend at school sites. Under the new format, I’d get to see 28 teams instead of 2. And many of those teams would be from far enough away that I would otherwise never get to see them.

On the other hand, it’s hard to argue with many of the points made in favor of having the finals at the dome.


December 14th, 2012
1:34 am

Metro Fan you are a little over confident. You may have to eat those words before it is over. This is just one year boy. Remember what i said,and i will remind you about those comments next year. Ware is not the only south georgia team. Class A ECI AND WARE CO. BOTH TEAMS WILL WIN. BANK ON IT. 2 OUT 6 BOY!!!! AND I SAID BOY!!! I TAKE YOUR COMMENT PERSONAL. THIS IS ONLY 1 YEAR BOY!!!

Metro Fan

December 14th, 2012
9:04 am

@FOOTBALL part of what makes beating you saouwffth jaowujiuh rednecks in football so enjoyable is that you have nothing better to do at 1:34am than talk mess about the 2 (out of 14) teams making the trek to civilization this weekend while we are either out enjoying bright lights, big city or better yet sleeping… AND OUR BOYS STILL EMBARASS YOUR BOYS ON THE FIELD! The rest of what makes beating you so great in football is knowing that even the extra practice y’all get with an early start to basketball season won’t save you from further humiliation on the hardcourt next spring. ECI can thank the GHSA’s decision to split public and private schools up in class A for their invitation or that would be another all-metro ATL affair again, and Ware can thank Deshaun Watson for showing them what real football looks like in the 21st century after he single-handedly lights up the scoreboard on them tonight. If the majority of your county’s residents don’t commute across 285, you had better start investing your resources in competitive noodlin’ or hoggin’ or steer wrastlin’… Get used to it, BOY!


December 14th, 2012
11:36 am

I like having the Finals in the Dome. I see both sides of the argument, agree with the pro’s and con’s, etc. All things considered, I still think having the championship on a neutral field is the best answer. I also agree with comments made earlier that the championship is the “pinacle” and the “prize”, and it should be held on the biggest stage. It’s also nice to be able to see the games in a place where you don’t have to worry about getting a ticket or a good seat. Let’s just hope they never again do what they did a few years ago, when they closed off the Terrace and Upper Deck. That was a nightmare. Everyone was packed into the lower level, and the people leaving couldn’t get out, and the people coming in couldn’t get in.